By Monique Ryan
Monique Ryan is the nutrition columnist for VeloNews andInside Triathlon magazines and is founder of Personal NutritionDesigns, a consulting company based in the Chicago area. Ryan will tryto answer selected questions each week in her regular on-line question-and-answercolumn.Readers are welcome to send questions to Ryan.
Dear Web Readers;
Thank you for your response to the nutrition Web Q and A. The responsehas been very high, and I am sorry if I am not able to get to everyone’squestions. Two topics that have come up very frequently are the issue ofmuscle cramping and weight loss. Instead of trying to address each of themany letters I have received, I have chosen two representative sampleson each topic. I hope these can address the concerns of many other readers.I expect to do the same when it comes to other frequently asked questionsas they arise.
Thanks,Monique Ryan, MS, RD
Cramping my style
I am a sport class mountain bike rider (age 34). I have been an avidcyclist for many years, but I have an issue that I feel is holding me back-leg cramping. I would like an expert opinion. — JWDear Monique;
Earlier this season I was having problems with muscle cramps in mylegs and feet both during training and especially during racing. I startedtaking some potassium, calcium, and magnesium supplements. This helpedsome. I realized that I had a significant reduction in cramps when I tooksodium during my longer training sessions and half Ironman races. Can aperson take too much sodium or will the body simply release the excessin perspiration? — DRDear JW and DR;
Muscle cramping seems to be a more frequent problem these past fewyears, and seems to occur more frequently during ultra-endurance events.The true cause of muscle cramping remains a mystery (hard to measure justwhat is occurring in the cell right when the muscle is cramping up), butit may simply be overworking your muscle to the point of fatigue. Whiledehydration and a variety of mineral imbalances may likely predispose yourmuscle to cramping, sodium depletion is likely the major cause, especiallyin warm weather.Start with the basics and make sure that you start out training orracing well hydrated. Keep in mind that you can sweat over two quarts offluid per hour in hot conditions. Make sure that you do not become progressivelydehydrated day after day of training. Obtaining potassium in your diet,a mineral that regulates fluid balance in the body and electrical chargesin the muscle along with sodium, is relatively simple.Good sources of potassium include fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils,and skim milk products. You can also use the salt shaker a bit more liberallyif needed. Guidelines to reduce sodium intake are more appropriate forthe general population and especially for individuals with hypertension.However, for ultraendurance events, more sodium may be needed. You canmake a point of consuming high sodium foods such as pretzels, salsa, soups,and canned foods, leading up to the event. Some athletes choose a carbohydrate-electrolytebeverage high in sodium, and consume up to 8 ounces every 15 minutes. Ifthese measures are not adequate for you, consider taking sodium tabletswhile racing. Aim for 150 to 250 mg of sodium per hour, consumed with atleast eight ounces of fluid. To date there are no reported cases of sodiumtoxicity, however, I would strongly suggest that you try these guidelinesfirst before consuming a greater amount of sodium per hour of exercise.It also can’t hurt to increase your calcium intake if it is not adequate.Good sources include skim milk and yogurt, calcium fortified juice andsoy milk, leafy green vegetables, and dried peas and beans. Take a calciumsupplement, if you don’t think that you can consume enough food sources(3-4 servings daily). Finally, make certain that you don’t overconsumeplain water. Low sodium may result from not replacing the sodium lost insweat and diluting blood sodium levels by drinking sodium free fluid. –MRSafe weight loss and plateaus
Fourteen years ago, I was 30 years old and weighed 350 pounds. I begana diet which was ultimately successful, as I now weigh 165 pounds. Forthe past two years, I have been stuck at 165 pounds, give or take a poundor two. My Tanita scale says I am 19 percent body fat, which I would liketo lower to 15 percent, which would put me at 155 pounds. In order to losethese 10 pounds, I restrict my caloric intake, but can’t perform my best.Yet in order to compete, I need to eat more and then I can’t lose the weight.For the last two winters, I have hit the weight room in order to buildlean mass, and I follow a pretty strict indoor workout routine. I reallywant to lose the weight during the winter. Any advice you can give willbe greatly appreciated. — BWDear Monique;
Assuming I want to shed some weight and I eat a good balanced diet(whole grains, lean meats, fruit/veggies in the right proportions, no junkfood), how many calories can I “safely” be in deficit on a daily basisif my estimated training loads would require 3000 to 5000 calories a dayto maintain weight? — MBDear BW and MB;
First off, to BW, congratulations on keeping off 185 pounds forfourteen years. Great accomplishment!One of the dilemmas for cyclists and triathletes who want to loseweight is maintaining adequate energy to train while cutting back on calories.Before beginning any weight loss program, try your best to objectivelylook at your current weight loss/body composition goals.Your ideal body fat should not be based on minimum levels or thatof a top competitor, but rather take into consideration individual differencesand genetics, and be compatible with good health. If your weight goal requiresextreme dieting, then it may not be a realistic goal for you. Next, youshould consider that all body composition techniques include some measureof error ranging from 2 to 4 percent. When checking your body fat on aTanita scale, make sure that you are well-hydrated and have an empty bladder.Finally, if you decide that you want to still lose weight, try notto eliminate more than 250 calories daily from your diet. While this producesa relatively slow weight loss of half a pound a week, it will not slowdown your metabolism, and not compromise your energy levels and weighttraining efforts (building muscle is great for your metabolism as you getolder). You can trim your diet in a number of areas, and decrease carbohydrateintake on lighter training days, as well as excess protein and fat. Itis important when you are “dieting” that you do not let yourself becometoo hungry, and set yourself up for overeating.You can also keep a food journal. This is a great technique for makingyou’re a “conscious” eater and increases your awareness of habits thatare keeping you from meeting your body composition goals. It is also normalto experience plateaus while losing weight. Sometimes you need to stayat a particular weight before losing weight again. — MR
Monique Ryan, MS, RD is author of “CompleteGuide to Sports Nutrition,” and “SportsNutrition for Endurance Athletes” from VeloPress. She is a regularcolumnist for VeloNews and Inside Triathlon magazines andis founder of Personal Nutrition Designs, a nutrition consulting companybased in the Chicago area. Ryan regularly counsels athletes on performanceand health related nutrition concerns. She has consulted with the SaturnCycling Team since 1994, and has also worked with Volvo-Cannondale, Trek-Volkswagen,and USA Cycling. Ryan offers answers to reader’s questions in this weeklycolumn. Readers are welcome to send questions directly to Ryan.